The Cather in the Rye – JD Salinger
Turn Right at Machu Picchu – Mark Adams
Murder at Waverly Place – Victoria Thompson
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave – Frederick Douglass
Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (audio book)
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The Cather in the Rye – JD Salinger
Local theatre in Los Angeles tends to have big names doing big things, and the glare of bright lights, big city sometimes blinds the audience to the beauty of simplicity that acting, that telling a story can be. The production of Thornton Wilder’s classic Americana, Our Town, starring Helen Hunt and directed by David Cromer at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, though, has none of that.
It is, in a word, beauty.
The sparse set, lack of props other than chairs and and tables, and the stage built into and around the audience forces intimacy and imagination at once. The decision to keep the house lights lit for the entirety of the production also encourages participation and attention, because the actors are literally standing next to and speaking to audience members.
I’ve been a fan of Helen Hunt’s work since, well, probably since I first saw her on Mad About You many years ago, but definitely since she carried Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinnear through As Good As It Gets. Not knowing the story of Our Town when I walked in, she navigated the play as Stage Manager with a direct, simple, powerful delivery that painted a picture but didn’t try to interpret the colors for the audience. She appeared to be speaking, simply telling a tale, without embellishing the device that was obviously her character’s purpose.
I have to mention, because it is what stays with me and what the large group of young students I accompanied to the play were buzzing about, the smell of bacon at the end of the play. What I don’t believe they understood, that truly captured my attention, was the tangible difference with introducing props (frying, sizzling bacon; cool, bottled milk; steaming cups of freshly poured coffee; carefully wrapped birthday presents) against the spartan imaginary set of the first two acts catapulted the purpose of the play, and the moral of the story, to higher ground.
If you get a chance to see Ms. Hunt, or this production under Mr. Cromer’s direction, take it. It is an opportunity not to be missed.
I highly recommend this play.
From the bedroom where I
cried realizing I am one of many.
never taught in high school classrooms.
omitted from required reading lists.
- Where Are You From, p. 35
The more specific poetry is, the more universal its appeal. Luivette Resto‘s manipulation of lang- no, her revolution of language in her freshman tome of work speaks of linguistic and cultural oppression is such personal terms that it invites each and every person who’s every been quashed by an authority figure or casually dismissed by holders of privilege to participate in her triumph over the same (as she does in my personal favorite, “A Poem for the Professors Who Say There is No Place for Bilingualism in Poetry”).
I began reading and folding pages over where poems struck me, or particular turns of phrase gave me pause. Halfway through, this became problematic because almost every page was folded. From the first line, “Because the accent does not match the skin,” in the first poem (“The White Girl In Her”), Resto opens her being and pours the reader inside. Skipping through growing up (“Questions for the Young Woman Representing Latinos, Women, Puerto Ricans, and People of Color”) and explorations of self (“A Feminine Agreement”), she dips into common experiences with an uncommon tongue. While Resto has written that she writes poetry for herself, we are all beneficiaries of her explorations and expression.
I highly recommend this book. You may find a portrait of yourself in her Unfinished Portrait.
“Strumming my pain with his fingers/
Singing my life with his words/
Killing me softly with his song/
Telling My Whole Life, With His Words/
Killing me softly/
With his song…”
-Killing Me Softly, The Fugees
Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to Be Black Now is simply amazing. Not in a fireworks-exploding blinding way, but in a post-coital, languorously intimate way. Having been out of graduate school for fifteen years, I don’t find it necessary nowadays to highlight when I read, or to take notes in order to remember salient passages. When I turned the first pages of Post-Blackness, though, I started highlighting and note-taking with a passion.
Growing up upper-middle class, in a lifestyle which allowed my parents to send me to private schools for most of my educational career, I found the lives and paths depicted in Toure’s work to be echoes of my own experience and experiences. I also found him trying to answer questions and address feelings that I’d never (or rarely with only trusted friends) shared out loud:
“The fight for equality is not over but that shift from living amid segregation and civil war to integration and affirmative action and multiculturalism – and also glass ceilings, racial profiling, stereotype threat, microaggression, redlining, predatory lending, and other forms of modern racism – has led many to a very different perspective on Blackness than the previous generations had.” (p. 50)
“Black America’s Greatest Generation: those who fought in the streets and the courts to desegregate and force America to give Blacks greater access to the American dream. Because of their struggles and successes my generation had new opportunities as well as a certain survivor’s guilt: We wanted to fight but there were no longer battles as fierce and overt as those they’d already confronted.” (p. 119)
Growing up, I often felt an internal struggle to maintain “the struggle” that my parents fought, that my grandparents fought out of necessity. But when we can sit at the front of the bus the responsibility to live up to those opportunities (while not having obvious racism and discrimination to fight) is real for those of us who grew up on stories of “what it was like.”
This book spoke to me in whispers.
Even with it’s underlying thesis that “Post-Black means we are like Obama: rooted in but not restricted by Blackness”, it reflected a definition of blackness that allows me to be at peace with not having existed in the world that O’Shea Jackson, Eric Wright, André Young and others painted as the reality of young, Black men growing up through the nineties.
In literally dozens of places I had to stop, feeling like Touré had been a fly on the wall listening to conversations I’d had growing up, and then written them down.
I recommend this book because it is an opening line in the much-needed conversation about race that the United States desperately needs. I recommend this book because it poses questions and posits theses that I have asked myself for forty years. I recommend this book because, while I haven’t done the power of its questions, its solicitations, its depictions and definitions of blackness justice, I have awakened the possibility that it will move you, too.
Cross-posted at Spreading the Word on 16 December, 2011.
- He Found My Letters, and Read Each One Out Loud… (powerfulbeyondmeasure.wordpress.com)
- The State of Race (online.wsj.com)
- Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? – By Touré – Book Review (nytimes.com)
“Yet another story of a person of color saving millions and contributing to mankind, only to have to glory and paychecks stolen. If she was compensated fairly, the compound interest could have built many institutions in black neighborhoods. But as usual, only the white folks benefit. Ahhh..the benefits of lying, cheating and stealing. Gotta love America’s history. ” – Lybroan James
It is often said, by African American intellectuals (and sincere students of the history of the United States) that the economic foundation of America was built firmly on the backs of enslaved Africans. Brought to work (and codified in the Constitution) as unpaid cogs in the economic gears of the fledgling democratic republic, the bricks of today’s political institutions were literally and figuratively mortared together with the blood and spirit of black folk. But this is a book review.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a poignant, detailed journey reflecting that same sacrifice of an African American woman and her family, benefitting humanity with absolutely no recompense. Though I began the book ignorant of the contribution of HeLa cells to science, medicine and humanity, their impact in scientific research cannot be denied. The author, Rebecca Skloot, crafts a wandering tale through white privilege and black bodies ending with (yet again) another example of black folk expanding the definition of individual rights to cover more people than they previously did. But, again, this is a book review.
I can honestly say that I read very little fiction nowadays. With fierce historical writing like Skloot’s work, there is no need. Fantasy cannot convey the joy or wonder that Deborah Lacks exhibited (and the author captured beautifully) at discovering the truth about her mother or the absolute breathtaking awe when Zakkariya Rahman actually watched a HeLa cell divide before his very eyes.
I highly recommend this book. Rebecca Skloot has paid homage to the sacrifices of the Lacks family with great insight and sensitivity, conveying their lives clearly and with honor. She has brought to light in a definitive manner the contribution Henrietta Lacks has made to the world.
Cross-posted at Spreading the Word on 21 December, 2011.
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (bhplnjbookgroup.blogspot.com)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks = Immortal Book (lipstickmoonlight.wordpress.com)
- Rebecca Skloot to Speak on her Bestseller, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (your-story.org)
The problem with reading/reviewing biographies is that I have to separate my feelings for the subject from my experience with the book. In this case it was extremely difficult for a number of reasons. Walter Isaacson has done a fantastic job rendering a very complete portrait of Steve Jobs. I am a huge fan of the products that Apple has produced over the last few years, which meant I didn’t necessarily want to peek behind the curtain. And I’d heard, over the years, about the genius of Jobs and the tyrannical nature of his control of the company both before his firing and after his return. Those qualms being shared, let’s dive in.
Isaacson has done a phenomenal job of drawing a word-portrait, utilizing interviews with friends, family and enemies of Jobs. He takes us from the earliest days, through the Homebrew Computer Club to the founding of Apple with Steve Wozniak. From the hours spent with his subject, Isaacson manages to cut through the myriad recollections to depict Jobs’ motivations, the base emotional interactions that drove him his entire life. And that, for me, is where I had so much trouble with the book.
Steve Jobs was a jerk.
His disloyalty to those who helped and supported him really outweigh, for me, his successes. From ripping off Steve Wozniak over a bonus before Apple, to refusing to include his engineering friend from sharing in Apple’s success when they went public, to denying his first child (then being absent from her life for many years), to focusing on his son and ignoring his second daughter later on, I have a real problem with his myopic disdain for others.
While I continue to use Apple products, I can’t really recommend this book because I dislike the subject so much from reading it. Well-written and worthy of all the praise the author has received, but the subject is really off-putting.
- Behind the Steve Jobs Biography (bigthink.com)
- Wozniak: Steve Jobs’ deal made me cry (telegraph.co.uk)
SPOILER ALERT: REVIEW CONTAINS PLOT POINTS
I picked up Carlos Ruiz Zafón‘s sophomore “adult” novel because I’d heard so much about his debut, Shadows of the Wind. Often in search of different storytelling techniques, or story construction, I looked forward to the unknown, expecting new rhythms, etc.
I was pleasantly drawn in to the tale, the protagonist’s desire to make his living spinning tales and revealing truths as a writer having NOTHING to do with it, I assure you. David Martin’s life and passion are different enough from my own to let me understand that though I could appreciate his desires and decisions, they definitely not my own.The picture Zafón paints of turn-of-the-century Barcelona is beautiful, doing justice to magnificent landscapes and prurient decrepitude with equal skill. The characters become more engrossing as the tale unfolds, sharing their joy and heartbreak, their disappointment and successes liberally…until the final act.
With the climax on the line, it became unclear what Zafón was doing with his work: was it a romance novel? a friendship tale? a historical murder mystery? a Spanish episode of Law and Order? a new look at Faust?
While I enjoyed reading the book, I left it a bit disappointed simply because in the end, literally, it was too many things, and yet was none of them satisfactorily. The love affair requited but unfulfilled; the Faustian bargain labeled a mistake by the devil; the murder mystery solved by the murder of the arresting officers by the (until then) innocent subject; the friendship maintained, but via proxies and open-ended…each opportunity to bring some resolution to the various threads, themes or relationship fell just shy of the mark.
I recommend this book with some reservation. I did enjoy it for the first five hundred-plus pages. Only towards the end did it get a little shaky.
- Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s Latest Novel (booksandboston.wordpress.com)
- Author Spotlight: Carlos Ruiz Zafon (bookblob.wordpress.com)
“The Autobiography of Malcolm X was him giving a tour of his life from a boat. Manning Marable’s Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention is Google Earth’s version.” 5 April 2011
Malcolm X is a man that many people knew, and millions more thought (or hoped or wished) they knew. From t-shirts to slogans, his image and words have been used to market music and foment revolutions. Yet, the truth of his life and death have been obscured by his iconic status, the simple broad strokes of bad man turned good much easier to package, market and consume than the flawed, complex, powerful human being he really was.
Manning Marable (and countless others – yes, I even read the acknowledgements) presents, in Malcolm X – A Life of Reinvention, the man and the life of Malcolm Little, who was Detroit Red, who was Malcolm X, who was Malik Shabazz, who was El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. Marable’s research and scholarship, though, present an individual in the context of his times: detailing the rise and fall of the Ku Klux Klan, the power of Marcus Garvey, the growth of the Nation of Islam, and then details the and elucidates the gifts which allowed him to navigate successfully, and which ultimately elevated Malcolm beyond. Marable also gives texture to the creation of Malcolm’s political evolution, from apolitical through black separatism to Pan-African revolutionary.
Drawing on years of interviews and access to documents previously unavailable, Marable “solves for X”, raising Malcolm from the moving character at the center of his autobiography to a figure in three dimensions. Reading this book felt like meeting an old friend that I haven’t seen in a while, and catching up with what’s been going on in his life since we last saw each other. I was also struck with how much Malcolm there was in the book, and how much his words resonate in today’s political climate. “United States history is that of a country that does whatever it wants to by any means necessary… but when it comes to your and my interest, then all of this means becomes limited.”
I cannot more highly recommend this book. It is simply a masterwork, both of history and human nature, that I plan on reading several more times. During my first read, I had to stop myself from highlighting! There was so much history, so much context and thematic structure that I didn’t want to let slip through my mind. Having completed my first pass, I’ve grabbed both my highlighter and my notebook, because I refuse to miss the opportunity to learn.
- Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable – review (guardian.co.uk)
- The biographer who shattered Malcolm X myths (cnn.com)
- You: Books of The Times: Stripping Away Myth and Finding Multiple Masks (nytimes.com)
Our guest blogger, PATM, is back.
The author of the series, Young Samurai, is Chris Bradford. Chris’s writing style in this series describes many things about ancient Japan, including their culture. In the first book (Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior), he introduces the main character and in a very appealing way tells the story of how a 12-year old English boy is stranded in an alien world known to the British as “the Japans.”
- Young Samurai 2: The Way of The Sword,By Chris Bradford (wellreadspartans.wordpress.com)
I have a rabid need for discipline. For many years, I trained with Grandmaster Taejoon Lee in the most comprehensive martial art in the world, Hwa Rang Do. He is considered the toughest teacher (and one of the most accomplished martial artists) in the world. In his own words, he’s “as huggable as a sharp knife.” And so it is that I wandered into Professor Amy Chua’s memoir about “Chinese Mother’s” versus “Western parenting”.
I have to say, I was enthralled from page one. Knowing that Professor Chua was revealing a methodic, planned approach to parenting captivated me. And I wanted to know how she would fare in the end. I, too, have many questions about my permissiveness as a parent, wondering, “is my giving in on this one point sending the wrong message or teaching the wrong lesson” to my children? The honesty of her behavior, and of its consequences for her, her daughters, and her family all held my attention.
Not having had an opportunity to read in a little while, I devoured Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in less than 24 hours. It’s a great read. And though it didn’t end as I expected it to (I’m not, to be honest, sure what I expected), she was honest until the very end, which is all I could ask of her as a reader.
I highly, HIGHLY recommend this book.
- Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother (npr.org)
- Amy Chua’s ‘Tiger Mother’ Gets New Title In Chinese (huffingtonpost.com)
- Book Review Podcast: ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ (artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com)